Her Highness

Once, the Five Kingdoms of Albion had been at peace, but that peace had started to shatter when the Court of Camelot was broken by the treachery and evil of one Knight, Mordred, and his greed for power.
Now, it’s been almost ten years since Mordred slew Arthur Pendragon at Camlann, ten years since Ygraine and Duran fled Camelot in search of safety. It’s been six years since Mordred found and captured them.
But Ygraine Pendragon is bordering on twenty years old, and she is through with the whole of Albion thinking her and her brother are dead. She is the daughter of the great King Arthur, and she is done with allowing her cousin to sit on the Throne of Camelot, the throne which he usurped.
When bonds are broken, betrayal occurs, hard decisions are made, and lives are lost, who will lose and who will conquer? How will the Princess, a lost heir to Camelot, fair when this become more than just an effort to rid the Kingdoms of Mordred, and instead become a war between light and dark?

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Lothian was arguably the greatest in the way of fortification, especially when it came to the citadel walls, complete with bastions that surrounded the capital. On route to the capital was a fast-flowing river, Avendale River, now frozen over but not thickly enough to tread over, with two thin bridges far away from each other, and then a small forest before the clearing in which the citadel loomed over, the wall descending down to the gatehouse that was cut into the gap between two hills. The position of the gatehouse allowed for Lothian guards to watch overhead on the top of the hill, because this path was the only path into the city.

    The turrets and towers of Lothian Castle were visible through the light fog that was shrouding the capital, despite the dying light. The tops of houses, however, were not. The city behind that wall was the second largest city in Albion, full of life.

    The sounds of people shouting of their wares in the market, despite the weather and the snow dusting the streets, could be heard even from the other side, proclaiming the selling of anything from fish and poultry to fine cloth and necklaces fashioned with rare and ancient stones. I could see groups of children could be seen making games out of items left in the mouth of the main street: a piece of long rope made a jumping rope, whilst branches were makeshift swords.

    I smiled at the sight of the children; it had been so long since I’d done that sort of thing. I wanted to join them, to take up a stick and spar with whoever was willing to be my opponent. I wanted to be as happy as they were, smiling and laughing carelessly and hopefully. A small part of me was jealous of them, of their innocence and unknowing of the hatred and evil in this world.

    Childhood became, like everything else, mere memories of a happier time. The world was sweeter when you were a child, completely black-and-white.

    The feel of Cyrus brushing his fingertips lightly down my right arm broke me from my reverie, and I realised that we needed to move forward, so I guided Aeron into taking a few feet worth of steps.

    Cyrus had been doing that, casual touches that were either of reassurance or making sure I didn’t draw into myself, since we’d set back off on our way following our quick redress in procured clothing that we had no desire to give back. During the hour between my wounds healing, though my leg was still not completely healed, and heading for this city once more, I’d apologised again countless amount of times to Cyrus for what I’d said and what I’d done, in particular the part where I’d said he was nothing more than a low-class orphan. He’d waved it off, saying it was fine and he was fine and he’d heard worse. I didn’t want to know just how worse.

    “Are you alright?” he whispered in my ear.

    “Yes, I’m just nervous.”

    “Just think of it as a great family reunion,” Robert said low enough so that only we could hear it and flashed me a smile. He looked handsome in his stolen outfit of black trousers matched with a red tunic and a black leather jerkin that was embroidered with gold thread, but Cyrus, in his black trousers and red-and-black silk jerkin fastened over a black tunic, looked even more so.

    I’d even taken to liking Cyrus’s now short beard, because it looked good with his outfit. 

    As for my own choice of dress, I’d happened upon a gorgeous one that fit me perfectly whilst rummaging through a gilded chest. It was a deep red silk with a bodice of the same colour festooned with a white brocade. I’d also found a pair of black small heels, so now my boots were in my satchel and my dagger was now in a lower leg holster I’d come across.

    “And not a ‘we’re planning to kill Mordred’ reunion,” Robert continued. “I’m pretty sure King Gawain will have already been planning a war with his brother.”

    “I don’t want a war, I want a battle,” I said, my fingers tightening around the reins. “Wars are fought over many battles, over many years, and end with countless deaths. A single battle is cleaner and quicker, and will end with Mordred’s head on a spike in my hand.”

    “Well, no one can ever say you don’t have ambitions.”

    I glanced over at him, brow knitted together. “Do you not think I will be able to do it?”

    Robert shrugged. He looked as if he was deliberately trying not to meet my gaze, but instead was looking up at the guards with their poleaxes. “I’m just thinking that you’re acting as if killing him will be easy. He has magik, he’s a powerful Warlock. Your father went up against him and lost, and he had Excalibur.”

    The mention of my father’s magik-forged sword, one of two that belonged to him, twitched with my memory: “Your father took Excalibur and Clarent but . . .”

    “My father took Excalibur to the battlefield but left it in his hut mistakenly, he never went up against Mordred with it,” I said, retelling the words Ser Leon had once told me before my cousin took Camelot and we all fled. “Instead he took Clarent, but in combat Mordred stole it, which left him only with Carnwennan and the small dagger was not enough to go against a stolen magik one. Mordred used Clarent to kill my father. If my father had taken Excalibur then he could have killed Mordred, but he forgot it—it was my father’s last and most mortal mistake.”

    “What happened to Excalibur?” Cyrus asked after a beat of silence as we moved closer to the gatehouse.

    “Honestly, I have no idea,” I said. “No one has seen it in almost ten years. But if I was to guess its whereabouts, I would say Avalon. The home of magik. The Lady of the Lake gave the sword to my father, after all. There couldn’t have been any risk of Mordred taking it.”

    “So,” Robert said, gripping the reins of his horse a smidge tighter, “let’s say for argument sake that it is in Avalon, do you think it will still be there?”

    “I don’t know. But if it is, it will not be in plain sight, not in the Isle of the Blessed or buried with my father. If it is there, I do not know where.”

    Robert nodded and moved forwards once more, silently gesturing for us to do the same. We were almost at the gatehouse now. I could smell the scent of freshly baked bread from various bakeries around the capital. I could see the towers of my dear cousin’s castle looming protectively over the end of the buildings and houses.

    We were almost there. We were so close. My heart swelled in my chest. So very close. In those walls I could forget what had happened earlier today, I could pretend that everything was alright, even if it was only for an instance. I needed to do that, I needed to pretend everything was all right, because false walls to hide behind were exactly how I kept up my trained facade, my calm appearance that occasionally cracked to show the raging fire beneath, or the sadness that lay beneath that.

    I closed my eyes for a second, clearing my mind, before opening them once more and craned my neck to look at the cloudy sky high above. Aconitum circled over us, occasionally swooping lower and then aiming higher. He was a black spot on the white, an agile, foreboding darkness on the light. But he was also a comfort somehow, because he belonged to Cyrus, and Cyrus seemed to be the one steady thing in my life right now, despite the rift I’d probably put between us. I knew he’d forgiven me, but I couldn’t forgive myself and I was worried I’d lash out at him again—I couldn’t do that!

    “Identification please, milady,” a voice at my left said murmured, breaking me from my reverie. I started and glanced down, meeting the eye of an armour-clad guard half-wrapped in a thick black cloak, holding his poleaxe at his side. “And lords.” His breath came out as white mist.

    I smiled and swung my right leg over to drop to the icy ground, grabbing a hold of Aeron’s rein’s to keep myself upright. The coldness of the cobbles under my feet instantly seeped through the soles of my shoes, and I wished that I had stuck to wearing my boots. “I think this is the only identification I need, dear guard,” I said as I drew back the right side of my cloak and pulled my sleeve up a little. The red of my Mark stood more starkly against my skin than it usually did. I held up my hand when the guard went to drop into a bow and murmured, “Please do not make a fuss, no one is supposed to know I’m here until I see my cousin.”

    He nodded and fully straightened back up. “The Royal Family of Lothian have been expecting you, Your Highness,” he muttered lowly and then glanced up at Cyrus and Robert. “Though I must say we were expecting you to arrive with one companion and not two, as you stated in your letter to the King that you were staying with a young Warlock.”

    “Both of them are to be trusted, I can assure you that,” I said, “I wouldn’t be friends if them if I did not think them so.”

    He nodded once more and took a step back. “We were asked by His Grace to escort you to the castle as soon as you arrived, Your Highness, but we must alert the castle first. If you would gladly enter the city but stay next to the gatehouse?”

    “Of course,” I answered and turned, swinging back up onto Aeron and trotting him through the gatehouse, smiling sweetly at the guards leant against the wall.

    I glanced around myself as soon as I’d stopped Aeron, taking in my surroundings. Lothian City was a lot like Camelot City, with high stone buildings that had thatched roofs and shutters over the windows, the cobblestone streets with a light dusting of snow that had not yet been swept aside on some, the amicable bustling noise of people going about their daily business, children playing out on the streets—it was all familiar . . . and it made me homesick.

    I was suddenly overwhelmed with a longing for my home Kingdom, for my castle and my people. I realised that this was going to be hard, because the corridors of Lothian Castle would remind me so much of the halls of Camelot Castle.

    A red-gold light above caught my attention from the corner of my eye. I craned my neck to see a fire burning on the top of the gatehouse, a large one in a pit. It twirled slightly in the breeze, illuminating brightly in the fog that had turned into a thin mist. Within a matter of seconds a second fire on one of the nearer castle towers caught my attention, a red and golden blaze that veered towards the sky.

    “How do they know you’re you?” Robert asked.

    “What?” I murmured.

    “How do they know you’re you?” he repeated, “and not Mordred in disguise. I mean, a Warlock like him is able to change identity, surely?”

    “You are correct,” I said. “But it is my Mark that denotes me as a Pendragon that makes them sure I am who I am. Mordred has a Mark, since he is of the same blood as I because of Morgause, my aunt. But even if he changed into me to fool people, his Mark would be in the same place because anything like that stays where it is, birthmarks and scars and pockmarks and the like, and his Mark is not in the same place as mine.”

    “Oh.”

    We were all silent for a moment, with me being able to feel Cyrus idling making swirling, comforting patterns on my back through my cloak and dress, and then the guard reappeared with two more on horseback. “The signal has been given and returned,” he said, glancing up at me with a smile twitching the corners of his mouth, “and we are to be your personal escorts to the castle. Welcome back to Lothian, Your Highness, and to your companions—welcome to Lothian.”

    “Are we staying in the castle, or in a tavern?” Robert asked, leaning forward on his saddle. I rolled my eyes.

    “In the castle, of course, as you are the Princess’s companions,” the guard said, “unless you would rather stay in a tavern.”

    “Anywhere where I don’t have to sleep on the ground is fine by me,” Robert murmured as he rolled his shoulders. “But the castle sounds more comfortable.”

    Cyrus let out a sigh behind me and dropped his hand from my back. “Just ignore him,” he said to the guard, “we are very grateful.”

    The guard nodded and took a hold of the Aeron’s reins. “Allow us to escort you to the castle; the King has waited long enough for your return, Your Highness.”

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